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Category Archives: Year11or1

The Emotion of Science Class?

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The past week, I’ve overheard my students reciting passages from various Shakespeare plays, which they have to recite during their English classes next week. And I’ve also heard them grumbling about how easy it is to memorize something, so why bother learning a particular passage.

Although the English class poems are long-gone from my memory, I can still recite a Goethe poem from my high school German class (“Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind? / Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind….”). I also remember that although every person in class memorized the whole eight verses, part of our grades was on how the person emoted through the passages. It’s a depth-of-meaning kind of thing, which some people are good at expressing and some are not. And there’s a whole other depth when it comes to poetry contests and spoken word presentations (like this breathtaking example from Harvard’s School of Ed 2016 graduation by Donovan Livingston). Recitations are, for some, a whole art and passion.

So, in science classes, what is worthy of this kind of passage-memorization? And what would be the equivalent of emotion? Mere application of equations seems to be less significant than emotional response, and more of a logic puzzle than art. Application of concepts, however, somehow seems closer. To see something more like Beautiful Reactions or categorization of birds or even videos of marbles and magnets takes the rote skills and makes it into something more sublime.

So what is the emotion of science class?

Giving Them Nothing

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Monday, my chemistry students started their semester final: a three-week, single-partner, no-outside-communication, all-hands-on-deck lab practical. I handed them a stack of papers and told them that I expected to see polished write-ups in three weeks.

Okay, so I don’t give them nothing. They can use virtually anything printed, including their lab notebooks, the textbook, the Internet… Other than people.

But I didn’t tell them exactly how to accomplish the experiments or how to write them up. This is throwing a lot of them for a loop. It’s making them think a little too hard. I had two pairs, who, after pouring a chemical in a beaker and watching it sink to the bottom of a beaker, discuss how to get a chemical to dissolve. After about 5-6 minutes of contemplating various heating implements, acids, and catalysts, I was afraid they were going to actually hurt themselves: I handed them a glass stir rod.

But the thing is, as I struggle to not talk or nudge kids in particular directions (which makes me think about how much/little I do during the rest of the year), they’re realizing how much they rely on being told what to do. They’re finally thinking about what to do rather than what I say. And to do this, they have to ask questions of themselves (and their partners).

I’m starting to think about how to give more goals, give fewer questions. It’s kind of a riff off of Dan Meyer talking about removing questions from textbook problems to make things more interesting/compelling/think-y. [Hmmm… curriculua as a state function? Many paths to get to the end?]

Cross-posted to Better Qs…

Cooperative, Competitive

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I started a bunch of posts, but haven’t finished them. Here they are, all combined: I like playing games with my students, and my students are competitive enough (in a friendly way) that they work well in my classroom.

Based on things I’ve seen in the #MTBoS (oh hey, it’s MTBoS season!), I’ve had my students play a bunch of games to practice new and in-progress skills. Also, I’ve never had whiteboards in class before, and I have a set of small, individual boards with periodic tables on one side, and a large set for group work. I’m all over these boards.

Battleship, which I haven’t found time for previously, was a nice way to practice groups and periods on the periodic table. And we needed a low-key class period.

Electron Memory to review electron configurations, symbols, and a sketch of electrons in their shells/clouds. Yes, it’s a match-three kind of situation! Much harder than normal. Not sure it was super effective in review, however.

Chemical War reviewed compound formation. Each kid had a slip of paper with an ion and a small whiteboard. When they met someone with an oppositely-charged ion, they raced to come up with the correct compound first. Some good questions came out of it, and these particular kids are pretty conscious about asking for clarifications.

The Mistake Game is my new faaaaavorite thing! So far, we’ve used them for practicing balancing equations, and now some stoichiometry. Stoich is funny: it’s almost too complicated to make a mistake, and they don’t want to mess up the beauty in the perfected equations. But I love that they’re seeing where mistakes can be made, and how to fix them. (And BCA tables are amazing!)

Particle drawings is kinda borrowed from the Modeling series of stuff. I haven’t gone to the seminars, but I did attend a few sessions while at ChemEd last summer, and I’ve made my own version of them, which goes along with our new textbooks’ examples. While the kids groan about doing it, they definitely have a better grasp about what’s really happening during reactions.

And now that all of this is on the table, I’m left with the educator-part of my brain saying, what questions am I asking? And therefore, what am I valuing?

I mean, I’m supposed to be posting to Sam Shah’s collaborative Better Qs blog, and I haven’t posted anything anywhere recently. Not for lack of interest, but for lack of questions. I’ve asked students to do things this year that I haven’t before (no required homework, SBG, draw reactions rather than entirely equations, etc.), but what’s my implicit question? I guess I’m looking for more explanations rather than merely regurgitating processes, but I need to shift my (non-required) homework to meet that.

Week 4 begins

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Whew. Today was the unit test on measurement and matter. I’ll start grading shortly. 

It’s been a whirlwind already, with some pretty intense students. I’ve never had students who could review significant figures, dimensional analysis, measurement rules, and other number handling… in 30 minutes. I’m starting to wonder how much I can throw at them, and how much I should throw at them. I hafta figure out pacing on a whole new level. I have a feeling that they might take what I toss their way. I’ll have to be careful about what is actually reasonable. 

Whiteboarding and Thinking in Questions

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I’ve joined Sam Shah’s group in  asking better questions. I don’t think this entry completely belongs there, but I did enjoy this particular bit of class today. 

Part of this year’s changes for me is a whole class-set of big whiteboards, and I’m making a conscious effort to utilize them during class. I really liked the things I saw at ChemEd this summer, and I want to see if I can get those benefits to my students this year. 

In class, we reviewed phase changes, then in groups, students draw a macroscale and a microscale version of a phase change. Every class had a group who made Frozen‘s Olaf melt, as well as the Wicked Witch of the West. Some pretty funny things with sublimation too. *

But here’s where I changed a thing. I had all of the groups present their drawings, and announced that two groups needed refinement or fixing. They went back to their drawings looking for mistakes. After a different class presented, I said for everyone to get up and see if any boards needed fixing or refinement, and to do so. This second class got a lot more out of really examining other people’s diagrams, and a lot of discussion chatter came out of it. I think they probably got more out of the repairs than the previous class. 

This probably isn’t ground-breaking for lots of teachers, but for me, it was good to know how I could trust my students (and how they trust each other) to honestly critique peer work. 

* I really want to post pictures of student work, but my district is really restrictive of it. 


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I have a room!  

I also have a lab! 


I have two rooms of cleaning to do! Not the floors, but many cabinets and drawers are filled with books, guides, unopened/unused trial software, unfinished experiments(!), and general clutter. I’ve dumped given the non-chemistry-related stuff to other teachers, so thats out of the way. And then there’s the stockroom. That room needs work. 

AND, I’ve never had my own room before! There are so many things to think about! I have a lot of volcano-related posters, but I should probably branch out. So in with motivational slogans and good guidelines for thinking, and some cool pictures and… I don’t know what I’m doing!